'Bodies of Evidence: Illustrated British Editions of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin'. Symbiosis 13.2 (October 2009)
Author: Bracewell, Joy
Humanities-Ebooks ‘Reprint’, 2012. 31 pages, 835 kb secure PDF.
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This essay was originally published in Symbiosis: A Journal of Anglo-American Literary Relations, Volume 13.2 (October 2009)
Essay Topics and Keywords:
Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, slavery, abolition, book illustration, representations of the body
An extract from this essay:
The proliferation of illustrated editions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Britain showcases the vexed problem of depicting enslaved black bodies in the mid-nineteenth century, especially the black female body. Read against the Victorian fetishization of classical purity and feminine self-possession, the corporeality of the slave, especially the female slave, relegated her ‘to the marketplace of the flesh’ (Spillers, ‘Interstices’ 76). Depending on the packaging of the novel as a cheap number or a handsome authorized edition, the context in which readers viewed Stowe’s slaves ranged along a continuum from popular entertainment to significant literature. Though no one illustration could display the cache of cultural capital belonging to Hiram Power’s sculpture, the constellation of values inscribed by the statue’s visual codes and its accompanying narrative mimic the aesthetics of the graphic accompaniments to Stowe’s novel. As the illustrations of Uncle Tom’s Cabin demonstrate, despite the Great Exhibition’s great gleaming expanses and the cozy domesticity that British versions of Stowe’s novel upheld, the past and continuing dirt of human commodification threatened to implicate not only Americans, but also the British in its shame.
About the author
Affiliation: University of Georgia
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